Smithsonian Needs Some Minnesota Farm Stories

Northstar Notes

I really would like to see some Minnesota farm stories as part of a future Smithsonian's National Museum of American History exhibit in Washington, D.C.

Published on: March 25, 2013

There aren't that many farmers left who can say they plowed fields with a team of horses and GPS, or milked cows by hand and with robots.

Even Baby Boomers have farm stories to tell. How they drove tractors all day without benefit of cover, computer or communication. Why their parents doubled and tripled the size of their livestock herds. How their family farms barely survived the 1980s.

Yes, we have a lot of history to share and it is so very important that some of us take on the task of writing it down and sharing it. Now. Before another older relative passes on. Before you get too busy with planting.


Well, I could say do it for you and your family. That would be one reason.

The other?

I really would like to see some Minnesota farm stories as part of a future Smithsonian's National Museum of American History exhibit in Washington, D.C.

The museum recently unveiled a new website specific to archiving stories and photos about farming. It launched the Agricultural Innovation and Heritage Archive which curators will fill with stories, photographs and collectibles to record and preserve the innovations and experiences of American farming and ranching.

The farming collection will be a part of the overall "American Enterprise" exhibition, an 8,000-square-foot multimedia experience that will tell the story of the nation's businesses from the mid-1700s to the present. Museum visitors, come grand opening in May 2015, will be able to explore the development of American agriculture through objects such as Eli Whitney's cotton gin, a 1920s Fordson tractor and an Agacetus gene gun, which represent machines and innovation that increased productivity and science that gave insight to the genetic structure of plants.

Recent stories and objects donated to the archive project include photographs, a computer cow tag and reader unit from a Tennessee multi-generational family dairy farm that shows changes in dairying from hand-milking to computerization. And an Illinois corn and soybean farmer donated road signs related to no-till production and organic farming.

Sharing your story with the archive is relatively easy. Visit the website and follow the directions. You may submit up to 1,000 words and three photos online.

Stuck for ideas? Wonder where to begin? Talk with your parents and grandparents. Think like a historian and pepper them with questions. Think about how technology has changed your herd, your crops, your machinery. Think about how farms have changed and why over the past few decades. Why did your farm grow and what were the challenges associated with it? What were the 1980s like for your family? How have conservation practices changed over the decades on your farm and why?


The Smithsonian website offers these suggestions for story ideas, too:

-Do you have photographs of walking the beans, de-tasseling corn, selecting seeds and other such experiences? Has the expense of hybrid seeds been worthwhile? When did you first bring new hybrids to the farm?

-From the farm auctions, to crop insurance, or just buying seed, there are many financial stories to tell and photos to share. What are livestock auctions like?

-Innovations in tracking and monitoring continue to make the American food supply one of the safest in the world. Have you done anything new or experimental in the field of food safety? How are things done differently now vs. in the past?

-How has raising livestock and poultry changed? Has your life been affected by new techniques in animal production? How does it differ from 30 years ago?

-Ranch hands, migrant workers, and the help of family members once provided much of the labor to raise and harvest crops. Today sophisticated machinery and herbicides resistant plants have changed the nature of the enterprise. How has your life changed? Do you miss the old days?

After sending in your story and photos, someone from the archive team will confirm your submission within 24 hours, and later send another email when your story appears in the archive website.

The first group of archived stories will be on view for the public on the Smithsonian website in the "browse stories" module on April 15.

If you need some help to get started, give me a call or shoot me an email. I know we have some great Minnesota farm family stories and experiences to share so let's get 'published.'